Timber trends
April 1, 2020

Bright lights, timber city

Advancements in wood construction are helping build more resilient, climate-smart towns and cities in BC, all the while boosting local economies and the province’s competitive advantage—trees and timber expertise

Exterior rendered view of proposed 37 storey wooden skyscraper using mass timber construction

TIMBER CITY REACHES NEW HEIGHTS | This proposed 37-storey wooden skyscraper could become the tallest of its kind in the world when completed. The ambitious project aims to set a new benchmark in sustainable high-rise construction. | Canada’s Earth Tower | Architect: Perkins and Will | Developer: Delta Group

Rendering courtesy Perkins and Will and Delta Group

Around the world, and here at home, we are looking for faster, quieter and more sustainable ways to construct climate-smart cities, from housing and commercial offices to retail and mixed-use urban developments—often in hard to reach tight locations. Four to twelve-storey mass timber construction is well positioned to meet the need for sustainable urban densification options. Here’s a look at some BC projects that show how a centuries-old building material can help build a low carbon future.

The future is wood

Why next-generation cities are turning to wood

Climate change and its associated effects may be a global challenge, but there is a role for local municipalities and districts to reduce their immediate impacts—whether it’s wildfires, flooding or finding low carbon construction alternatives. In response, cities and towns across British Columbia are turning to light-frame wood and mass timber design and construction.

Wood construction is a central component of the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) housing strategy for British Columbians. Thirteen BC communities have signed on as early adopters of mass timber for taller wood building. At the provincial level, mass timber is being encouraged as part of its capital construction programs, particularly in the development of healthcare facilities and the expansion or replacement of public facilities such as the Royal BC Museum.

Just this past summer, the City of Vancouver made amendments to allow mass timber construction up to 12 storeys for residential and commercial uses, doubling the current height allowance for wood from 6 storeys. As the City points out, this will make it easier to build with low carbon materials, support housing affordability, and remove barriers for the construction industry at a time of crisis and economic recovery. Surrey, the province’s fastest-growing city, continues to make timber central to its infrastructure expansion and urban design. Along with more than 50 other municipalities, it was an early adopter of the Province’s Wood First initiative that recognizes wood’s social, environmental and economic benefits and makes it the material of choice for public buildings.

Photo and images | Top left: Brock Commons Tallwood House, Photographer KK Law | Top right: The Heights, Photographer Raffi Karakouzian, courtesy Cornerstone Architecture | Bottom: Rendering of Clayton Community Centre, courtesy HCMA Architecture & Design


Getting climate smart

A made-in BC solution

Municipalities have the power to impact roughly half of Canada’s total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. From schools and health facilities to public infrastructure and housing, building more and taller with wood in BC can play an important role. Wood construction, when paired with sustainable forest management practices, can offer significant emissions reductions for the province, according to the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions. Under the best-case scenario modelled by BC researchers, combining sustainable forest management with long-term carbon storage in wood products could contribute up to 35 percent of the province’s 2050 emissions reduction target.

Right: North Vancouver City Hall  | Photo credit: Martin Tessler courtesy Michael Green, FRAIC, formerly of McFarlane Green Biggar Architecture + Design, now of MGA | Michael Green Architecture


Urban infill and density advantages of wood

Today’s cities are in search of better ways to boost density and reduce carbon emissions while adding to a neighbourhood’s character and quality of life. And they are looking to do it faster and with less noise and disruption.

Two relatively small but impactful projects in the Lower Mainland are doing just that—demonstrating firsthand the urban infill advantages of mass timber construction.  When it comes to energy efficiency, advanced timber engineering, occupant comfort and design these high-tech midrise projects are punching well above their weight.

Photo left: Fast+Epp headquarters under construction, courtesy Fast+Epp

PH1 mixed-used development

Timber makes a tighter, quieter and faster fit

This three-storey commercial office squeezes into a narrow urban lot in the heart of North Vancouver’s Shipyard District with the help of made-in-BC prefabricated mass timber construction. The project uses cross-laminated timber (CLT) and showcases how a wood-built workplace and mixed-use development can be a modern, high-tech and sustainable alternative to conventional steel and concrete design.

The contractor originally planned for a 21-day installation but reduced it to half that. By using building information modelling (BIM) technology and virtual design and construction (VDC) modelling, the team planned out the sequence assembly with the crane operator in detail. They identified several ways to save time and condensed the virtual schedule to 11 days. In reality, PH1 went together even faster, exceeding their expectations with a nine-day completion time.

Image right: Rendering of PH1 courtesy Hemsworth Architecture

The innovation-packed CLT wall received approval using an alternate means process and carefully considered fire protection, shear capacity, constructability, aesthetics and design requirements. This meant the warmth and beauty of the wood could be left exposed while achieving rigorous safety and energy-efficient targets.

The building is set to meet Passive House’s rigorous energy standards. This was achieved in part using a unique pre-insulated mass timber wall design. The innovation-packed CLT wall received approval using an alternate means process and carefully considered fire protection, shear capacity, constructability, aesthetics and design requirements. This meant the warmth and beauty of the wood could be left exposed while achieving rigorous safety and energy-efficient targets.

Image left: Wall detail of PH1 courtesy Hemsworth Architecture

Light-weight champion

Six ways timber punches above its weight

Once considered the underdog by some, wood is proving it can more than compete with concrete and steel, offering an ecofriendly, nimble alternative to heavier, carbon-intensive materials.

Prefabricated wood panels illustrated in blue

Light yet strong

Wood is light-weight but can withstand considerable force—particularly when compression and tension forces are exerted parallel to the wood’s grain.

Dark blue icon of hand holding tree seedling

Low carbon & renewable

When considered over its lifetime, wood has less embodied energy, reduces air and water pollution, is naturally renewable and has a smaller carbon footprint.

Folded depiction of single family dwelling in dark blue


Wood is well suited to efficient all-season prefabricated construction. Modular wood building systems can be easily put together akin to ‘life-sized Lego’.

Blue illustration of battery


Wood’s low thermal conductivity compared to steel and concrete makes it well suited to high performance Passive House and net-zero ready design.

Crane adjacent to building site as a blue icon

Fast quieter construction

As cities continue to grow exponentially, quieter prefab timber construction means less noise and disruption in dense urban settings.

Icon plan in three steps with a final checkbox

Flexible designs

Wood can be more easily assembled and disassembled, modified or relocated making it well-suited to the rising demand for flexible architecture.

Fast+Epp headquarters

Timber-built office for BC-based timber trailblazers

With six global offices and growing, structural engineering firm Fast+Epp needed more space. Internationally recognized for a portfolio of expressive hybrid wood structures, they decided to build a new headquarters to showcase what is possible with mass timber construction and design.

It was also a chance for the team to turn their offices into a living laboratory of ongoing research. Fast + Epp will use vibration sensor equipment to evaluate the vibration performance of the long-span mass timber floor system at various stages through construction and occupancy. They will share results with the broader engineering community to improve understanding of how mass timber floors behave when it comes to vibration performance.

The building’s superstructure will include a mix of mass timber and steel columns with steel brace frames. Glue-laminated (glulam) beams will be decked with CLT panels; the long spans allow fewer columns for a more flexible interior space. An easy-to-install CLT firewall, prefabricated with fire-resistant exterior finishes, will be used in place of a conventional concrete firewall.

Image right: Rendering of Fast+Epp headquarters, courtesy Fast+Epp

Retail therapy

How timber can boost the economy and improve the urban experience

Innovative made-in-BC-timber products can help boost the provincial economy while being a distinctive differentiator for developers and retail brands. Gone are the days of bland mixed-use developments—today’s urban design is focused on seamless integrations of work, live and play environments that delight the user.

Look no further than Greater Victoria, one of several BC regions where the development and construction industry is embracing mass timber. A massive mixed-use Esquimalt Town Square project will blend two residential low-rises, offices designed to attract high-tech tenants, commercial space including retail and restaurants with a four-storey library and piazza to feature mass timber construction.

“Those of us involved in the design profession are excited about the opportunities for new architectural expressions using mass timber products and the potential to push structural spans and cantilevers as the new products perform differently than steel and concrete,” said architect Jim Alders.

A WOOD WELCOME | The West Wing, Penticton Lakeside Resort uses exposed wood and mass timber as an attractive draw for guests.

Photo left: courtesy Structurlam Mass Timber Corporation

Alders of HDR Architecture spoke about the firm’s experience completing the West Wing, Penticton Lakeside Resort constructed entirely with locally supplied mass timber products—delivering both structural and aesthetic applications. The hotel features an exposed timber structure—made of a Douglas-fir glulam post-and-beam frame. Each floor took an average of one week to install and the entire building was completed in just under a year, in time for the resort’s busy summer season.

Photo right: Gord Wylie Photography, courtesy HDR Architecture

Biophilic Design Boosts Brands

Could timber positively impact the bottom line?

 All of these investments in wood construction and biophilic design look nice, but do customers really care? A recent study conducted by the University of Laval suggests that they do, concluding that exposed structural wood can have a positive impact on customers. A survey of 100 randomly selected customers compared shopping experiences in a wooden building compared with a steel building in three types of stores: a supermarket, a home renovation centre and a furniture store. In all three cases, a higher number of customers expressed greater satisfaction with the aesthetics of the wooden building than with the steel building. And customers were more inclined to describe the wooden building as ecological, healthful and warm.

Biophilic brands

Timber sends an eco-friendly message

Retail brands, here in BC and beyond, are also increasingly looking to timber as a sustainable building material that sends an eco-friendly message while improving the buying experience. This is all part of a bigger trend towards biophilic design.

Locally-sourced timber is a natural fit for MEC, Canada’s biggest retailer of outdoor gear whose brand and mission are firmly anchored in sustainability and stewardship.

The home-grown brand put eco-conscious timber-framed architecture front and center in its newest flagship store, located in Vancouver, British Columbia. Opening its doors in early 2020, the three-story mass-timber building makes natural, exposed wood central to the shopping experience.

“MEC is setting the precedent here. I think we’re going to see a lot more commercial development with this sort of construction,” said Ron McDougall, a mass timber specialist with Structurlam Mass Timber Corporation, the wood fabricator for the project.

He says the wood design of the new store aligns well with MEC’s green-oriented mandate, as well as its purpose as an outdoor apparel and equipment retailer, with its customers “feeling comfortable being in a wood environment.”

WOOD WARMS SALES | Homegrown outdoor retail brand MEC uses exposed wood and mass timber to reflect its commitment to sustainability.

Left: MEC Vancouver store interior l Architect: Proscenium Architecture + Interior | Photo credit: Shannon Elmitt, courtesy Fast+Epp

Home advantage

How wood light-frame and mass timber are creating more sustainable housing options

All regions of the province are experiencing significant demand for a wider mix of housing options. And cities and towns across the province are looking for ways to boost density and affordability without sacrificing quality of life. Light-frame wood and mass timber construction may be particularly well suited to the challenge, given the century-old building material’s sweet spot of building to 4 to 12 storeys. It can play an important role, increasing choice, adding value and delivering a mix of building heights, typologies and floor space ratios (FSRs).  

A HEALING HOME | Innovative combination of CLT, masonry and light-frame construction provides an inviting home-away-from-home for sick kids and their families at the Ronald McDonald House BC & Yukon.

Photo right: Ronald McDonald House BC & Yukon l Architect: MGA l Michael Green Architecture | Photographer: Ed White Photographics


Mass timber and light-frame combine to deliver innovation

Mass timber and light-frame are proving to be a fitting and practical duo. While technological advancements have enabled taller wood construction, mass-timber products combined with traditional wood-frame construction, are offering new design advantages, embraced by BC architects and developers looking for ways to set their projects apart from the pack.

Conventional wood construction has long been favoured by Vancouver-based developer Adera. The firm first saw an opportunity to use prefabricated mass timber construction in Virtuoso, a multifamily light-frame and mass timber building located on the campus of the University of British Columbia. The developer has gone on to complete more hybrid mass timber and light-frame projects including The Shore, Sail and their newest project, Crest.

CONSTRUCTING CREST | Adera’s latest building, Crest, is rising six stories above Lonsdale Ave. in North Vancouver. Along with a natural palette of materials, it combines light-frame and mass timber construction.

Image left: Rendering of Crest, courtesy Adera Development Corporation

The project’s construction method uses a CLT floor system, essentially substituting a slab of concrete with a slab of wood. Because CLT can serve as floors, walls and ceilings, it offers the opportunity for exposed wood to add warmth to the interiors, a major selling feature for the developer.

Another notable example of hybrid design by developer JMC Properties Ltd is Legacy on Park Avenue in Langley, BC. The design of the building features curved “flying” balconies, made possible with the use of CLT panels. Its unique curvaceous design is setting this six-story all-wood multi-family project apart from conventional condo designs.

CURVE APPEAL | CLT panels help give the multi-family project uniquely curved balconies, open spacious units and an organic exterior design.

Photo right: Legacy on Park Avenue, courtesy Keystone Architecture

The future is wood

BC taking timber to new heights

BC is setting its sights on building more and taller with wood. And for good reason. Along with climate benefits, prefabricated timber construction offers many benefits. It is well suited to rapid all-season. It is quieter, cleaner, lighter to transport and saves time. As cities continue to grow exponentially, this means less noise and disruption in dense urban settings. Wood buildings are well suited to energy-efficient construction and the rigorous standards of Passive House and net-zero-ready design. And wood is naturally renewable and locally-sourced, helping to grow BC’s economy.

Virtuoso under construction

MASS TIMBER GOES MAINSTREAM | Virtuoso, located on Vancouver’s UBC campus, is an early example of light-frame and mass timber residential construction. BC is now seeing a growing rise in the use of mass timber for all sorts of building types.
Photo above: Photographer, Pollux Chung, courtesy Seagate Structures

For centuries, British Columbians have built with wood. Today, it continues in new and innovative ways as we forge a path to a more sustainable low carbon future.